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Second Opinion: Seriously, ‘Interstellar’ Is Worth Another Watch

interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s ambitious sci-fi space epic Interstellar has proven itself to be a very contentious topic of discussion among hardcore moviegoers (and Nolan fans). And in the three years since its release and after Nolan’s newest film Dunkirk, the debate has only gotten more divisive.

Some liked it, some (including Jon Negroni himself) didn’t, some were indifferent, etc. Despite all this debate, Interstellar has managed to gain a surprisingly devoted following, many of them (like myself) even more impressed the second time watching it.

As the title of this article suggests, I remain a staunch defender of Interstellar. Yes, it definitely has flaws, but there’s still a lot to love. When I first saw the movie, however, I was sad to say that I didn’t like it much. I found it boring and confusing, and it just kind of left me disappointed. It wasn’t until the recent release of Dunkirk that I decided to give it another shot, along with some other Nolan movies, to gain a fresher perspective.

I was amazed by how much I loved Interstellar the second time.

I almost didn’t think I was watching the same movie, and I eventually came to the conclusion that time was the key factor here. It had been over two years since I first saw the film, so I had actually forgotten a lot of what had happened, weirdly enough. I did remember most of the actual plot thanks to a combination of my disjointed memory and some of the online discussions I had observed over the years, so I pretty much knew the basic premise going in, which I think made for a much more complete experience. An emotional one.

In fact, the emotion of it all is what surprised me the most watching Interstellar the second time. The personal story of the characters, the beautiful imagery, and the score by Hans Zimmer all worked together to sell me on humanity being at stake. I truly felt like time was running out and that every second was important. The relativity scene and the docking sequence stick out as being especially tense and heavy, making for some decent thrills among the more conceptual material.

On top of all that, I was impressed by how Nolan balanced all this heaviness with a very unique story about a father and his daughter. Although Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain) don’t have a lot of screen time together, the connection between them managed to be as potent as it needed to be, even across time and space (a point the movie directly addresses, of course).

interstellar

That said, I attribute this successful character relationship to the editing by Lee Smith. He cut these scarce scenes together in just the right way for them to display the mutual care between Cooper and Murph and how they can’t seem to move on, even though it may be in their best interest to do so. The performances by McConaughey, Foy, and Chastain obviously help too. They’re able to convey the pain of leaving a loved one behind in a very convincing way, and I was excited to see where the story was going even though I already knew the ending. That’s not easy to pull off.

But what I liked the most while rewatching Interstellar was the overall message I must have missed the first time around. It might be a hackneyed thing to say, but I was impressed by what I think Nolan was getting at with a recurring motif in the movie in the form of Professor Brand (Michael Caine) repeating these lines from a Dylan Thomas poem:

“Do not go gentle into that good night; Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

First, recall the premise of the movie: humanity is on the verge of extinction and/or famine as a result of a second dust bowl destroying the world’s resources. You get the sense early on that most people have basically accepted their fate and are just trying to have as good a time as possible before it all slowly ends.

What I think Professor Brand, and by extension Christopher Nolan, is getting at with the poem is that we shouldn’t just give up on life. We possess the intelligence, the potential, and the technology to resist the natural order of things, and we should use our humanity wisely. Just because we can. Why not fulfill our potential as intelligent beings?

It’s this kind of compelling philosophy that makes me love science fiction as a genre.

Despite all of the praise I’ve given it, I still don’t think Interstellar is a perfect movie. Most of my flaws stem from pure filmmaking aspects. For instance, I think the shifts in tone between intellect and emotion can be very jarring at times, and some scenes can be a little too wordy and bogged down in exposition.

interstellar

I think there are numerous wasted characters, as well, most notably Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). They’re both a bit underwritten and don’t have as clear motivations as you’d expect from the rest of the script. Plus, Dr. Mann is a little on-the-nose in that one scene I don’t think I have to spell out.

Also, and this is painful to say, the ending is…perfunctory. I think most people agree the story wraps up sappy and with little apparent thought put into the broader implications of the whole enterprise. I don’t want to accuse the studio of meddling, but it really seems like someone put something into the movie at the last minute in an attempt to make the film more accessible. Who knows?

Problems aside, I’m happy to say I finally got my money’s worth after almost three years. If there’s anything I would like you to take away from this belated review, it can be found right in the title. Maybe Interstellar is worth another try. Coming from the perspective of someone who came around after just one rewatch, I think there could be more to it than you originally imagined.

Second Opinion Grade: B+


 

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How Would You Rank The Christopher Nolan Films?

nolan

This past week, there’s been the usual discussion between Nolan nerds over how his latest film, Dunkirk, fits in with the rest of his work. I normally stay out of these ranking conversations because my rule of thumb with Nolan is that his movies take time to process and analyze, for better or worse. Sometimes, his movies seem better on the second watch or months later. Sometimes, they’re worse. I doubt Dunkirk will be any different, either way.

Go on…How Would You Rank The Christopher Nolan Films?

Is Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ Really A Masterpiece? — Cinemaholics

dunkirk

Usually on Cinemaholics, we stick to covering one featured movie and leaving the rest for “mini reviews.” But for the second week in a row, the summer release schedule disagreed with us, so Will Ashton, Maveryke Hines, and I reviewed both Dunkirk and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this week.

This was a more contentious episode than usual, with most of us differing quite a bit on both of these movies, particularly Valerian. If you’re at all interested in seeing either of these films, our conversation might prove useful.

Just two Mini Reviews this week: Aftermath (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Colossal (starring Anne Hathaway). The latter is a film I saw just this week as a blind buy on Will Ashton’s recommendation.

Go on…Is Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ Really A Masterpiece? — Cinemaholics

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ Is More Survival Epic Than War Movie

dunkirk

Dunkirk was written and directed by Christopher Nolan and is his most recent film since Interstellar. Nolan has tackled a variety of genres to mostly great success; heists, magicians, space, and even comic books. But how does the blockbuster artist fare with historical war fiction?

Most war movies tend to be action movies. Many of the best ones go beyond the typical violence and bloodshed to delve deeper into psychological thriller territory, while others spend their first hour unfortunately delving into needless romantic subplots and love triangles (ahem).

Go on…Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ Is More Survival Epic Than War Movie

Unopinionated: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Is Better Than What You May Remember

dark knight rises unpopular opinion

Every week, readers send me their unpopular opinions, and on Unopinionated, I explain why they’re unpopular in the first place.

From my inbox: “Sad to see you hating Batman v Superman, when The Dark Knight Rises has to be one of the worst Batman films of all time. That’s not an unpopular opinion, it’s just fact.” – Cheyenne

It’s interesting how quickly some have turned on The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR), a powerfully ambitious film that is quite easy to unpack for various flaws and plot holes that we’ve all come to expect from Christopher Nolan’s brand of filmmaking.

Not that this is an excuse. TDKR is absolutely a flawed movie. Part of that might have to do with how it is justifiably compared to its predecessor, The Dark Knight, which has cemented itself as a lasting future classic within the pantheon of superhero movies (despite the fact that it is far removed from what constitutes a typical superhero film).

dark knight rises unpopular opinion

Expectations were always going to be lopsided with TDKR, so it was surprising to see mostly positive reviews surface as the movie was released. As the years have gone on, however, there’s been a quiet movement to shift the consensus of that film to something much less grandiose than the two Batman films it wrapped up.

And I’m among the fans of this movie who wished for a more cohesive film, structurally. TDKR has not one, but two “rebirth” narratives it forces its Bruce Wayne to endure. Multiple time skips, an overabundance of key players, and some familiar beats from TDR are just a few complaints that weaken the overall product of this film, but they don’t even come close to undercutting how potent this conclusion truly was.

You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything. – Selina Kyle

What the film does spectacularly is stay on target with what Batman Begins set out to do in the first place (and what TDK carried on so superbly). That is, these movies have always been about holding a mirror up to the deepest fears we have about the post-9/11 millennium — the deconstruction of American capitalism through outside forces, terrorist attacks based in nihilism, and highly invasive government tactics — only to show us how ludicrous it is for us to think that one man can save us all.

Of course, we root for him anyway.

dark knight rises unpopular opinion

TDK played with this direct parallel by pitting the “clean” politician, Harvey Dent, against the vigilante secretly known as Bruce Wayne in a love triangle, of all constructs. By TDKR, audiences are convinced that no one man can save Gotham, but perhaps everyone can unite in righteous fear against a force they don’t understand. This, of course, speaks more relevantly to current events of 2016 even more than 2012, when Barack Obama was poised to win his re-election and the Occupy movement was in full swing.

TDKR makes it clear that violence always has a purpose, whether it’s for the sake of violence as illustrated in TDK, or to be a forced resurrection through the events of Batman Begins. There’s a reason Nolan chose to end this trilogy on the shoulders of the League of Assassins, whose seemingly anarchistic goals are based in some eerily sound logic carried over from the first film.

The film actually begins during a time of peace, eight years after the events of TDK. This peace, of course, is based on the lie that Harvey Dent (and his morals) survived his own death. The white knight was chosen over the dark knight, except the dark knight is the one who made this choice possible.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear. – Bane

Forced into exile, Bruce Wayne has spent this time letting others run the city, and even his company, believing once and for all that the city no longer needs a “Batman.” Meanwhile, a new threat named Bane has set a plan into motion that couldn’t be more ambitious: an actual takeover of Gotham City, effectively making it the hostage of a rogue network of fascist mercenaries.

dark knight rises unpopular opinion

Three new faces enter Wayne’s life as this plan takes off, and they couldn’t be more dissimilar. A young cop named John Blake represents the faith Wayne once had in the Batman role. Miranda Tate, a board member of Wayne Enterprises, helps Wayne enact a new plan to create sustainable and clean energy for Gotham. And the wildcard is Selina Kyle, a thief who shifts between wanting to save the world or giving up to profit off of the chaos.

A good part of the film is used exploring what these new characters mean to Bruce Wayne as he embarks on a war against Bane, but also against his own uncertainty and entanglement with the darkness that he hasn’t been able to shake since the Joker came around.

I don’t know why you took the fall for Dent’s murder, but I’m still a believer in the Batman. – John Blake

But it’s truly the more established cast that helps make the spectacle of TDKR worth caring about. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman all return to reprise their roles as a shade of Bruce Wayne’s standalone mentor. And Christian Bale himself delivers a more compelling, pain-stricken Wayne than even the TDK, but mostly because that movie did the work to set him up.

Dark Knight Rises unpopular opinion

And that’s the biggest advantage TDKR has, and it’s what helps it overcome its various shortcomings. The film is improved by what came before it, and it also improves them, as well. While franchise blockbusters like The Avengers are to be commended for their commitment to world-building, TDKR is to be celebrated for how complete its story is across its three offerings.

Nolan does a splendid job balancing energetic set pieces (the opening hijack scene is a highlight) with what would descend into mindless fantasy, otherwise. And they save TDKR from being devoid of any fun or awe considering how lacking this film actually is of Batman himself.

A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended. – Batman

But when viewed as a continuation, not a standalone film, these flaws suddenly become less entrenched with the film itself. From start to finish, TDKR works more as an honorable resolution, rather than a climactic high achieved by TDK. Perhaps we wanted something more groundbreaking, or even faithful to the comics that founded this character and how his story ends in our own imaginations. Our expectations aside, TDKR still delivers something that makes sense within itself.

Grade: B+


Do you have an unpopular opinion you want challenged? Let me know in the comments and I’ll take it on in a future Unopinionated article. Or you can email nowconspiring@gmail.com

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Unopinionated: ‘Man of Steel’ Isn’t the Superman Movie We Asked For

esman of steel unpopular opinion

Every week, readers send me their unpopular opinions, and on Unopinionated, I explain why they’re unpopular in the first place.

From my inbox: “Man of Steel is a lot better than people give it credit for. In fact, it’s pretty much flawless.” – Shadan

The first “can’t put my finger on it” issue with Man of Steel is its identity crisis. Is it a space opera or a superhero movie? While some of the best superhero movies attempt to mix genres (the spy thriller undertones of Captain America: The Winter Soldier are a fine example), Man of Steel fails to commit fully to its aesthetic, bouncing themes and ideas around without any sort of thread that connects them.

Make a better world than ours, Kal. – Lara Lor-Van

This is partly because Man of Steel spends most of its long running time explaining what Kryptonians are, rather than who they are. And this of course carries over to Superman himself, who is so embedded in mainstream culture at this point that any sort of follow up has to sell him in a unique way in order to be effective.

The structure is overtly reminiscent of Batman Begins, and for good reason. Nolan’s 2005 rebirth of the Batman film franchise led to WB’s critical and financial smash hit, The Dark Knight, oft cited as the best superhero movie of all time. It makes sense that the studio would want to retell Superman’s origins with the same kind of flashback-focused narrative that combines backstory with the drama of the hero’s first journey.

In Batman Begins, however, there’s a clear vision that unites these flashbacks with present day, mostly because Christopher Nolan had creative authority. In Man of Steel, which was helmed by Zack Snyder, it’s clear that some parts of the film had separate influences. To put it bluntly, it’s jarring to jump from a Zack Snyder sci-fi movie to a Christopher Nolan origin story (with some vague Dragonball Z aesthetics thrown in during the final act).

man of steel unpopular opinion

Henry Cavill as Clark Kent is a double-edged sword of satisfaction. He absolutely looks the part, and his early wanderings in the movie are a highlight. Watching him show restraint in the face of overwhelming opposition (only to sacrifice the mystery in order to be a hero) is both a clever and unique way to make sense out of why he wants to be Superman in the first place.

Aside from this, Clark Kent is a character with very little to do, and even fewer critical decisions to make (which is why it feels bizarre when he does finally do something surprising). Instead, he merely reacts to everything around him as he scrambles from plot point to plot point. True, the script tries to add depth to his character with carefully worded interactions between him and the supporting cast, but they’re offset by impossibly moronic character decisions, notably with Jonathan Kent’s guidance and ultimate sacrifice that makes very little sense constructively.

People are afraid of what they don’t understand. – Jonathan Kent

Clark Kent is presented as a blank character who has more symbolism thrust upon him than any of the humanity (or Kryptonianity) that would make such symbolism feel substantial. Before the movie has a chance to actually go somewhere with Clark’s future and motivations, an all-out brawl erupts that monopolizes the final act, undercutting most of the thought-provoking ideas that would have justified the movie’s exposition. By the time the end credits start rolling, the audience is left with a titular character who is actually quite boring.

man of steel

Some of this could have been forgivable if Man of Steel had better handled its Lois Lane, which is likely the levity-filled saving grace of the first few Superman films. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Amy Adams’ Lois and Cavill’s Superman stumbles around in order to feel a little less forced than it deserves. The characters exchange few lines before major reveals (and out-of-context romance) take place, which could have been a novel idea if the film had offered more weight to these crucial moments.

Despite all of this, Man of Steel is not a terrible movie. In fact, it succeeds in many ways that its predecessors fell short. It gracefully omits typical Superman lore (Lex Luthor, kryptonite, etc.) in order to put attention on a unique narrative, complete with an awe-inspiring reimagining of Krypton. The action scenes are certainly eye-catching, discounting the egregious IHOP product placement and overly extended set pieces.

But overall, much of what Man of Steel offers in terms of themes, characters, and plot simply doesn’t mix with the established mythos of Superman. This wouldn’t be a problem, of course, if the movie wasn’t trying to tackle the most recognizable superhero of all time.

Hi, Lois Lane. Welcome to The Planet. – Lois

A gritty, more realistic take on Batman made sense because the character himself is already  somewhat grounded, making his internal struggle as endearing as it is believable. To replicate this, Snyder doubled down on how Superman is essentially Earth’s “messiah,” an enduring (and obvious) interpretation of the source material. The problem is that this isn’t what people actually love about the character, despite how fundamental the Jesus story is to Clark Kent. What people love about Superman lies elsewhere, far removed from a 33-year old Superman posing on a figurative cross in outer space. That kind of Superman is, for lack of a word already mentioned in this review, boring.

Simply put, Snyder’s Superman is a messiah, a son, a hero, and a wanderer. But strangely enough, he’s never a character. Not an interesting one, at least. And that’s all anyone was asking for.

Grade: C


Do you have an unpopular opinion you want challenged? Let me know in the comments and I’ll take it on in a future Unopinionated article. Or you can email nowconspiring@gmail.com

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

 

Unopinionated: ‘Inception’ is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Movie

inception best movie leonardo dicaprio

At the 88th Academy Awards, Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar for Best Actor. Sadly, he received the long-awaited award for the wrong film.

I’ve written in length about how The Revenant is an achievement in little beyond the uncompromising vision of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. And DiCaprio has deserved this award for superior films, which include Catch Me If You CanThe AviatorInception, and The Wolf of Wall Street.

(I leave out The Departed only because that film, while mostly flawless, lacks a clear lead actor who carries the film.)

We can have a lengthy debate about which of these films are his best, but for the sake of time, I’ll submit that Inception is the clear standout.

Warning: mild spoilers follow for Inception.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, Inception is successful for bringing high-minded ideas to a movie big enough for the big screen. Taking place in a dreamscape where anything can happen, the movie has a unique restraint that is tossed aside at enough moments to make us yearn for it (the line “Dream bigger” uttered by Tom Hardy comes to mind).

inception best movie leonardo dicaprio

The set up for Inception is a slow build, as Nolan masterfully placed thrilling set pieces in a conceivable order that could come tumbling down for an ultimately satisfying final act. Only to finish the movie with a cliffhanger that begs every viewer of the movie to lend their take on what actually took place.

What enticed viewers about Inception in the first place was the promise that they’d see a unique sci-fi heist on par with accessible movies like Ocean’s 11. Yet audiences left feeling more challenged than anticipated, rivaled in part by the philosophical ripple effect The Matrix had on popular culture in 1999.

For that reason, Inception is one of those rare event movies that can be embraced by all matter of movie fans. Lovers of action and spectacle got their fill. Auteurs craving a brilliant performance received DiCaprio and Cotillard’s rush of a tragic romance, and over thinkers (such as myself) were allowed to pick apart the realities of a brand new world with fresh possibilities.

inception best movie leonardo dicaprio

For DiCaprio, Inception is one of his best performances, as he juggles his immoral occupation as a metaphysical master thief with the sympathetic yearning of a dreamer separated from his children. The audience, characterized beautifully by Ellen Paige, is able to uncover DiCaprio’s moral quandaries within the backdrop of the only environments where the actor’s motivations would make clear sense, trading flashbacks for interactive memories.

What makes his character (Cobb) shine is his parallel battle with the rational and irrational, which comes to a head by the final act. Cobb thinks quickly and lives by the logic that has helped him survive fugitive life, but he’s just as vulnerable to the emotional impulses (plagued by his inner ghosts and demons) that undermine every plan he makes.

Much like the gaping businessmen Cobb is infiltrating for hidden secrets, Cobb himself is more or less a character we’re unwrapping as well, and the idea that he must let go of his wife is where the movie’s grandest inception actually takes place, begging the question: could Cobb have really been dreaming the entire time? The answer is up to whoever is asking the question.

(I unpack this entire exercise in length via my What You Missed About Inception article from 2013).

Inception is imaginative, massively entertaining, and hard to stop talking about. It has the dialogue of a visionary who spent a decade writing the script, characters who make the audience feel intelligent and moronic all at once, and an ending that is likely impossible to spoil in a few sentences. It’s a wholly original work of art that is harder to browse for imperfections than nearly anything else, and it is the best film yet of Leo’s career.

Grade: A+


 

Do you have an unpopular opinion you want challenged? Let me know and I’ll take it on in a future Unopinionated article.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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